Jennifer M. MCBRIDE. Radical Discipleship: A Liturgical Politics of the Gospel. Fortress Press, 2017.  pp. 279. $34.00 pb.  ISBN: 978-1-5064-0189-8. Reviewed by Dolores L. CHRISTIE, Shaker Heights, OH 44122.


As a postdoctoral theology student the author taught a pilot course in theological certification at a women’s prison. She was involved also in the work of the Open Door, an intentional activist community in Atlanta, Georgia. The group embodies structured outreach to the homeless, the incarcerated, and even those on death row. Members participate in communal worship, teaching, social activism, and works of charity articulated in the biblical text. Questions like ‘Where did you see me hungry, homeless, in prison, thirsty?’ become clarion calls to action. Christian life is not a spectator sport, hermetically protected within classroom walls. It involves “being with,” or at least “moving toward” through the practice of a ever greater simplicity.

The book brokers a marriage between the scriptural message of the liturgical cycle and the experience of a purposed life of social justice, what the author calls “lived theology.” Given the title and the headings of various sections, I was somewhat disappointed in the fragile, sometime even strained, connections between the seasonal readings and the important point she was making. Nevertheless the book incarnates gospel values of restorative justice, human dignity, community, forgiveness and reconciliation directly in the spotlight of its exposition.

 Without naiveté or sugar coat, McBride weaves her own experiences with the stories of desperate people caught in the complex webs of cultural evil. She dialogues heavily with the works of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Martin Luther King, and liberation themes of Jurgen Moltmann; all of whom themselves spent time in prison. As anyone who has read these thinkers knows, they urge Christian living beyond sanitary theory to the down and dirty−even to the trivial action of washing clothes or serving a meal. One particular vignette recounts the author’s experience in the laundry of Open Door. Immersion not only in the problems of the poor and oppressed but in seeking out their solutions is essential to living the gospel.

A surprising part of the book is the intense interest and insight into gospel theology by those a long way from the academic community. Quoting Moltmann, the author notes, “Reading the Bible with the eyes of the poor is a different thing from reading it with . . . a full belly.” Even a woman living on death row was “hungry for theology.” Sadly her hunger was satisfied only in the afterlife. Against repeated protests and appeals, the state proceeded with her execution.

To supplement the compelling narratives which dominate the book, the author includes extensive bibliography organized by the specific works of the authors she favors and the areas of social justice that she covers. She details the work of other intentional communities like Open Door and suggests such groups should be a part of a vital parish.

All in all the book does not add much new to the question of radical discipleship or commitment to issues of justice. Nevertheless readers will be taken by the very real stories of those in need− a compelling gospel stew served on a bed of liberation theology. Who should read this book? I am tempted facetiously to suggest it as a gift to our president, but realistically I recommend it to any of us who comprise the so-called privileged class. Students with limited experience in sustained volunteer work would be well served by reading the poignant stories. The life experiences of most of us do not include being-with those in prison, on death row, sleeping on the street, or dealing with the exigencies of severe poverty and desperation. The book makes the reader squirm, and perhaps to pray for the “more.” As the author suggests, perhaps it should.